In this day and age of instant gratification, waiting for something is an uncomfortable proposition. Patience is perhaps no longer considered a virtue; instead it seems an outmoded, old-fashioned convention that is no longer necessary. When you can buy whatever you want in a click and have it delivered same day, when you can job-hop to the next promotion instead of taking the time to learn the ropes, when you can self-publish your book this month instead of struggling through the journey of finding an agent, editor, and publisher and then slogging through the production process mandated by a traditional house, why bother with patience?
Self-publishing has allowed a lot of writers become instant authors. Many (but not all, of course) self-published authors whip-up a manuscript, format it through one of the many self-publishing platforms, and pop out a book in no time. Some self-publishers can go from manuscript to published book in as little as three weeks. This in contrast to traditional publishers, which can take anywhere from three months to three years to go from manuscript to published book.
But is that speed to market necessarily a good thing?
What’s the rush?
Since 1997, when Lightning Source was founded and the print-on-demand model came into its own, self-publishing has pretty much lost its stigma. Gone are the days that self-publishing was referred to as “vanity publishing.” In fact, today, self-publishing is often referred to as “independent publishing.” So popular has self-publishing become that Bowker reported that in 2015, a whopping 727,125 ISBNs were issued for self-published works (a combination of print and digital publications). Also reported was that 625,327 individual self-published titles were issued. That’s a lotta books.
It’s also a lotta authors who either couldn’t find a traditional publisher or who chose not to for whatever reason.
As an editor and agent, I often hear from would-be authors that their plan is to spend about six months seeking a traditional publisher and then, if one isn’t found, to automatically go the self-publishing route.
Is this impatience? Confidence? Hubris?
Whatever it is, it’s usually not advisable to rush to publication. Getting your manuscript published as quickly as possible no matter what usually doesn’t provide many benefits—aside from allowing you to call yourself an author.
Let me explain.
First of all, few books need to be published right now, this very minute, or even in the next month or so. Unless a book is so timely that in six months or a year it will have missed the boat, there is no reason to rush to publication. Yes, some books are crashed through the production process at some traditional publishers, but those are usually nonfiction titles that are designed to capitalize on a trend or capture a specific moment. Most titles can wait.
Second, for those writers who have been seeking a literary agent or wish to publish with a traditional house but have only gotten one rejection email after another, the next step shouldn’t necessarily be to self-publish. Instead, this pile of rejection letters begs for some patience—and for some reflection. Why are so many agents turning down your manuscript? What is it about your manuscript that publishers keep declining it? If agents, editors, and publishers—industry professionals—don’t think highly enough of your manuscript to believe it will sell, what makes you think you know more than they do?
Oh, I know that every writer has dreams of becoming a best-selling author. And many who decide to self-publish believe they’ll be the next E. L. James, whose Fifty Shades series was originally self-published and then scooped up by Vintage Books. But that happens very rarely. In fact, by some measures, only about forty of the thousands and thousands of self-published authors attain any measure of success.
There are myriad reasons why so many self-published authors fail to achieve much success. We could debate those reasons ad nauseum. But I can say that my experience proves to me that one reason for this lack of success is that too many writers are impatient, rushing to self-publish before their manuscripts are really ready for prime time. Instead of taking the time to consider what might be wrong with their rejected manuscripts, too many writers simply thumb their noses at the feedback they’ve gotten from the traditional publishing industry and leap from that last-straw rejection letter to self-publishing—without bothering to give their manuscript another read-through, without spending time making further edits and rewrites, without researching the market in order to best position the book, and so on and so forth.
That’s not to say that all self-published books are poorly written, unpolished, unedited dreck. There are plenty of well-written, high-quality self-published titles that thousands of people have enjoyed reading. But I can say that I’ve seen numerous writers take first-pass edits as final edits, accepting all the changes without question, addressing only a few of the comments and queries posed in the manuscript, rewriting hardly anything, and then—poof!—publishing on a DIY platform that makes their book available in a matter of weeks.
And to what end?
Publishing in haste rarely does anyone any good. In fact, publishing in haste can all but doom a writer’s career. Putting out a disorganized, poorly edited, amateurly designed book doesn’t make you look good, it makes you look bad. You might be able to, technically, call yourself an author, but at what cost?
It’s much better to publish a good book in good time than to rush out a half-baked book in a hurry.
Give yourself the time to do it right. Chances are that few, if any, readers are already lining up at the bookstore waiting for your book to publish. This is especially true if you haven’t been building a community of fans and followers. It’s also true if you aren’t known as a subject-matter expert. And it’s true, too, if you’ve not published anything else anywhere else.
Becoming an author might well be as simple as dropping your just-finished manuscript into a self-publishing platform and getting a page on Amazon. But that doesn’t mean that’s how you should go about it. Your impatience is likely not reflected by readers. Your urgent desire to get your book out as quickly as possible is likely not matched by an urgent desire among readers who are simply desperate to read your work.
Rarely has any writer gone wrong by taking her time, getting her manuscript critiqued and edited, undertaking the rewriting process, and making sure her manuscript is as polished as polished can be before submitting it to agents and editors and before getting it published. There’s really no rush. So don’t rush through it. Don’t encumber yourself with an artificial deadline that you rush to meet for no real reason. Instead, give your manuscript the time and attention it deserves. You’ll be a better writer for it, your manuscript will be a better book for it, and your readers will be happier readers for it.
March 1, 2017